Shaun Levin

Reading a Lot

In Reading, Writing on August 5, 2021 at 2:10 pm

Or: On reading Carole Maso’s The American Woman in the Chinese Hat

We used to read a lot. We had books on the go, many books by our bedside, in our bags, on the coffee table, the kitchen counter. On the way to, the way from, while waiting. We read a lot, and all the people we knew read a lot. Oh, we had a lover every now and then who didn’t read a lot, but how could that ever last, that passionate affair with the one who did not read. We didn’t all read the same books but sometimes we did and we exchanged this book and that book oh you have to read this and yes, i loved it too, no i couldn’t get into it, but mostly our friends were like us, people who read a lot, and there was always room for more books, always more to read and we read everything we wanted to read and nothing was left out.

We had books on the go but there was always the one book we loved the most and we would disappear into it, on the bus, during a break at work, while off duty, and we read, and that was our world mainly, that world of disappearing into books. It’s not like that anymore. We’re not always reading and we blame the world and we blame ourselves and we blame Netflix and our screens and their screens (your screen, we blame your screen) and the end of the world but we know there was a time when things were different and we read a lot. We remember reading a lot because that epoch of reading lasted a long time reading and reading for years and years and discovering who were were through books and at the backs of those books – lists of other books and we’d go in search of them and we lived a life of a daisy chain of books one leading to the next, tied to the next, and how wonderful it was to be reading a lot.

Now we read less. We read a story here, an essay there, an article, an Instagram post, an Instagram post, an Instagram post, a tweet, a tweet, a thread, a tweet, hoping to be consumed and disappear the way we used to, emerging even more wonderful than we were when we went in, stronger, clearer, richer, peacocks, we were all peacocks back then when we read a lot, even if only in the privacy of our minds and imaginations, our heads from the inside as shining and colourful and reflecting of light as the plumage of a peacock. But then, yes, but then, but then… we come across a book every now and then, now, years later, years after that epoch of reading a lot, light years away from that time, stranded as we are now – where? where are we? – and a book appears to us, from where we’re not quite sure, maybe a secondhand bookshop, maybe a friend lends it to us, maybe – admit it – someone talks about it on their feed, and we feed off it, trough like, lay our hands on the book and read it and feel ourselves disappearing into it – look at that wonderful hole, Alice, look at the rabbit, follow the rabbit, open the closet, Mr Lion Witch and Wardrobe, let us in to the other side, and look, we’re disappearing the way we used to and how delicious, even if we are disoriented and thinking to ourselves, is this real, shouldn’t we be checking e-mails, shouldn’t we be working, working out, seeing what’s happening on the social networks we’re networking on, I mean, is it okay to be disappearing… how wonderful to be in this book and reading and the lines are beautiful and the words are beautiful, seeing them side by side the way they’ve been placed, and maybe the book was on our bookshelf all this time anyway, waiting for the right moment to make itself known. Read me, Alice.

at Fundación Valparaíso Artists’ Residence, Mojacar, Spain, circa 2005

We don’t read a lot anymore but when we find something to read, my god how we miss it and it’s as if no time has passed at all and we’re back in our lives, in that other country, that other place where we read a lot, how wonderful it was to read a lot and yes, it was nice to have others who read a lot but to read a lot is to live in the company of those who have written and the words on the page and the feel of the pages and the little bio at the beginning and the acknowledgements at the end and thank you to you and to you and Je t’embrasse she says at the end of her book because they were there for her, too, some of them dead and some of them living and what more do we need, no one, no one more than the books and the books before them and the promise of books to come, because if this book appeared to us out of nowhere, who’s to know what more is in store for us, these diamonds in the rock of our days that are harder but more solid and denser with less time and the memories of those days and years back and back and back to the epoch when we all read a lot.

  1. Shaun: I love this piece so much. Thank you for the bit of escape and reverie. Wow.

  2. This is so true… thank you for this. So glad I found your blog!

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